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sex workers

Focus group with sex workers on GBV and COVID -19 in mobile Nkwen Bamenda III

Context

The spread of the Covid-19 Pandemic has compounded the vulnerabilities of women in the North West Region of Cameroon. The most common form of gender-based violence (GBV) is Intimate Partner Violence (IPV), with nearly one in five ever-partnered women and girls, have experienced violence at the hands of an intimate partner, with these statistics only increasing due to lockdown and social isolation measures resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. The dire economic conditions also provide ample opportunities for perpetrators to exploit women and girls' needs to attain basic necessities to survive, demanding sex in exchange for items such as food or healthcare. To assess these concerns, CAEPA undertook a focus group discussion (FGD) assessment in Mobile, Bamenda III Sub-Division to understand concerns and needs of sex workers and, services, and assistance available during the crisis and COVID-19 lockdown. This information will help CAEPA better advocate and plan for vulnerable women and girls within these affected communities.

 

GBV Assessment Findings

Overall, members of the focus group discussion identified the period of 2016 and 2021 as being the phase when women and girls were most at risk to sexual violence, and economic violence. However, the recent formation of a union amongst sex workers has helped to decrease the instances of violence faced by these women. The leader of this group described how, prior to the crisis, many current sex workers were in a very different situation but were forced into sex work in order to survive after the death or disappearance of their husbands. She also describes the violence and degradation suffered by sex workers who are looked down upon by the communities: ‘We are our own army’, she says, ‘we defend ourselves, but equally states more protection from organizations and the government must be introduced. Many women explain the demands of childcare and education as pushing them into sex work, work which makes them extremely vulnerable to sexual violence.

The group suggests that they protect themselves before seeking help from others and state that the police are more a threat than support. The group members were unaware of the women empowerment centers or social welfare services available to protect them.

 

Recommended Actions

CAEPA recommends the following actions be taken for effective long-term protection of sex workers. First, empowerment programs should be prioritized for sex workers who are generally forced into the profession as a result of financial hardship. Secondly, measures should be enacted to protect sex workers and their right to engage in their profession. Measures such as trackers and circuit cameras to allow them to move around freely and help track and identify perpetrators were suggested. There may be some challenges to these actions, particularly due to the generally negative impression many sex workers have of NGOs who they perceive as enriching themselves while they continue to suffer.